Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Inverness' Cromwellian Fort

I bet 99% of people driving along Lotland Street in Inverness seeing this grassy bank behind Roy Homes' car park think it's just a bund enclosing the oil tanks behind.

But in fact what they're looking at (if they notice it all) is a Scheduled Ancient Monument because this is all that remains of the ramparts of a fort built in the 1650s on the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

Like the fort at Fort William I wrote about a couple of years ago (can it be that long ago?), I'd no idea there was anything left to see of the fort at Inverness. But if it's not very well known to the general public (despite local clues such as this part of the town being called "Citadel"), it's well known to the conservation authorities as disclosed by the veritable forest of hatchings and markings over the map of Inverness in this area on the PASTMAP website (registration necessary but it's free).

The red bit is the grassy mound which is scheduled as an Ancient Monument

The historical context of the fort at Inverness is the same as the one at Fort William. Everyone's heard of the English Civil War in the 1640s when Parliament took up arms against King Charles I. The gripe was the king's high handed attitude to levying taxes. What's less well known is there was a also parallel civil war in Scotland in which the king's enemies - called the Covenanters - had a gripe about his religious policies. The long and short is that Oliver Cromwell got fed up with all of them, closed down Parliament, executed the king (1649) and invaded and conquered Scotland (1651). In Scotland, the clans had been particularly active on behalf of Charles so Cromwell decreed a fort at Inverness, a key location for control of the Highlands. (Note, incidentally, that Cromwellian forts didn't have names like William, Augustus, George etc. In the 17th century, Fort William was called simply Inverlochy.) 

Rotated 90 degrees clockwise to get it "north up". Note how the main entrance appears to have been a bridge from a gate-house on the opposite side of the River Ness.

Construction of the fort at Inverness began under the direction of Major-General Deane in May 1652 but it wasn't completed until 1658, having cost £80,000. It was built with stone from Inverness' Greyfriars and St Mary’s churches and the medieval priories of Beauly and Kinross. It also incorporated timber from neighbouring Strathglass as well as oak imported from England. Within the ramparts were a church, magazine, stores and accommodation for a thousand men.

Despite all this, the Inverness fort was demolished soon after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, just two years after it had been completed. But it has nonetheless left its footprint, fading gradually as Inverness developed round about it but still just visible to the present day. There's a wealth of further information about the fort at Highland Council's Historic Environment Record here. Note particularly the 2001 report which contains a series of historical maps of Inverness showing the fort. One of them is the Ordnance Survey 1870 25 inch map below:-

Another of the old maps referenced in the report is John Home's 1774 map of Inverness which you can see in detail at the excellent Am Baile website.

The star shaped pattern of the fort was still visible in an aerial photo taken in 1950 which you can see on the National Libraries of Scotland website:-

And the footprint is still just visible on today's Google Earth with the land to the east and north (which was a grass aerodrome in the 1930s) now totally built over. On the GE extract below, the red X is the location of the rampart which is the grassy bank in the photo at the top.

Though never likely to qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vestigial remains of Inverness' Cromwellian fort are a good example of fascinating history to be found amongst the most mundane of surroundings. And in fact the fort is just a part of a bigger story inasmuch that history proved it was premature to have dismantled it in the 1660s. Only 30 years later, Inverness found itself once again in the cockpit of warfare over deposed Stuart monarchs in the shape of the Jacobite risings. This led to the town being re-fortified in the 18th century on the site of its medieval castle where the sheriff court now stands - this was the original Fort George (complimenting Fort William and Fort Augustus). It was blown up by the Jacobites in 1746 shortly before they were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden and this led to the present Fort George being built 10 miles east. (I typed the last two sentences without checking my facts and I feel more postings on this subject coming on once I have ...)

I leave you with a final picture of the only other remaining vestige of the Cromwellian fort at Inverness - the clock tower on the not uncoincidentally named Cromwell Street. (It's immediately west (left) of the upside down Olympic pattern of oil tanks in the GE photo above.)

I gather there's some doubt about whether the clock tower was an original part of the 17th century fort (see for e.g. here and here) but it's a lot older than the oil tanks. I wonder if archaeologists will be puzzling over them when sifting the layers of civilisation 1,000 years from now ...


  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

  2. Very interesting. You may be interested to know that they were going to build the new fort george at the old citadel site..very similar, plans were drawn up but at the last moment they decided on Ardersier....

  3. Thanks for your research, I love the history of the land I fly over. You are welcome to share my airviews to illustrate articles, I have many online.